Maybe you notice that you’re really tired and thirsty a lot — but you brush aside the feeling that something is wrong. But when your vision becomes blurred, you decide it’s time to visit your physician. After discussing your symptoms and running some tests, the diagnosis is in: diabetes.
Whether several of your family members have diabetes or your diagnosis seemed to come out of nowhere, you are not alone.
Every year, 1.4 million Americans receive a diabetes diagnosis. More than 29 million Americans are currently living with diabetes. It is one of the top health issues facing adults in the Stormont Vail Health community.
But what exactly is diabetes?
Blood glucose (also called blood sugar) is your body’s main source of energy. Normally, your pancreas produces a hormone called insulin. When you eat, insulin helps the glucose (sugar) in your food get to your cells to be used for energy.
If your body doesn’t produce enough — or any — insulin, or doesn’t use insulin well, the glucose can’t get to the cells to be used as energy. So, it builds up. That causes diabetes, a condition where your blood glucose levels are too high.
Types of Diabetes
The most common are type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in children and young adults. With this type of diabetes, your immune system attacks your pancreas, destroying the cells that produce insulin. Since your body can no longer make insulin, you will need to take insulin every day, generally through a needle and syringe, insulin pen, or insulin pump.
The exact cause of type 1 diabetes is unknown, but researchers believe genes or environmental factors, such as viruses, may play a role. We do know that diet and lifestyle do not cause it — you can eat a nutritious diet, get plenty of exercise, and still develop type 1 diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes occurs when your body still makes insulin, but either does not make enough or does not use it well. You are most likely to be diagnosed after age 45.
Unlike type 1, type 2 diabetes is often caused by your lifestyle. Being overweight or obese is the leading cause. In fact, 90% of people living with type 2 diabetes are overweight or obese.
Gestational diabetes develops during pregnancy, usually between the 24th and 28th week. Any pregnant woman can develop gestational diabetes, but you may be at an increased risk if you are over age 25, have a family history of diabetes, or are obese. Blood sugar levels typically return to normal after birth, but you are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes later in life.
Prediabetes means your blood glucose levels are higher than they should be, but not high enough for a diabetes diagnosis. Prediabetes is a warning sign that you’re on the verge of developing type 2 diabetes, or having a heart attack or stroke.
Fortunately, prediabetes is reversible. With diet changes, exercise, and weight loss, you may be able to bring your blood glucose levels back to normal and avoid full-blown type 2 diabetes.
What Does Diabetes Mean for Our Community Health?
Since 68% of adults in Shawnee County are overweight or obese, and 1 in 15 Kansas adults has been diagnosed with prediabetes, preventing and treating type 2 diabetes is one of the top priorities at Stormont Vail Health.
Complications of Diabetes
By keeping your blood glucose levels, cholesterol and blood pressure under control; eating a nutritious diet; exercising, or losing weight; you may be able to avoid complications of diabetes.
However, without these changes, diabetes can mean serious complications, including:
- Heart and blood vessel disease: Your risk for cardiovascular problems, such as coronary artery disease with chest pain, heart attack, stroke and high blood pressure, greatly increases if you have diabetes.
- Foot damage: Diabetes can cause a disruption in blood flow to the feet. This means blisters and cuts can become infected because they have trouble healing. If the damage is severe, it can lead to toe, foot, or leg amputation.
- Kidney damage: Your kidneys filter waste from your blood. Diabetes can damage the filtering system. You could then develop kidney failure or end-stage kidney disease. These conditions sometimes require a kidney transplant or dialysis.
- Diabetic retinopathy (diabetic eye disease): High glucose levels can damage the blood vessels in your eyes, causing vision loss. Diabetes is the main cause of blindness in US adults.
- Cataracts and glaucoma: Diabetes makes you more prone to developing cataracts (clouding of the eyes) and glaucoma (diseases that damage the optic nerve). Both of these diseases can lead to vision problems.
What Are the Keys to Addressing Diabetes Community-Wide?
Preventing and managing type 2 diabetes involves focusing on several key areas:
- Weight loss: Being overweight or obese greatly increases the risk of developing diabetes, especially among people with prediabetes or a family history of diabetes.
- Physical activity: Physical activity helps people lose weight and decrease their risk of developing diabetes or manage current diabetes. However, 23% of Kansas adults do not feel they have access to opportunities for physical activity.
- Access to health care: Managing diabetes and preventing complications is easier with routine care (e.g., cholesterol tests, weight checks, foot exams). However, many patients cannot access appointments. This can be due to issues with transportation, as well as financial concerns — 17% of Shawnee County adults under age 65 do not have health insurance.
- Affordable medication: Patients often struggle to afford medication, meaning they do not always comply with diabetes management instructions and do not get the life-saving treatment they need.
How Stormont Vail Can Help You
- Diabetes Support Group: Our diabetes support group is open to adults with a diabetes diagnosis, as well as their families. We address the challenges of living with diabetes, and our educators provide information about healthy living.
- HealthWise: We provide up-to-date health information and access to educational programming. Programs are generally geared towards adults over age 50, but patients of all ages are welcome to join.
We also have a social worker on staff. This social worker can help with:
- Obtaining financial help for medication
- Completing Medicaid applications
- Finding additional support services in the home, such as caregiver services
- Referring to mental health services, such as individual counseling
- Educating about diabetes
- Educating families on how to help them keep their diagnosed loved one healthy
The Importance of the Right Medical Team for Diabetes Care
Having the right team can lower your risk of developing diabetes. If you already have diabetes, getting the best care can decrease your risk of having complications and help you manage your condition so that you can live uninhibited by diabetes.
That starts with a primary care provider to help you stay on top of weight loss and tracking blood sugar. They can give you information on healthy eating and exercise and look for signs of complications, such as heart disease, eye disease, or foot infections.
If your diabetes is advanced, different specialists may be a part of your care team, such as endocrinologists or nutritionists.
How Does Stormont Vail Include Family and Friends as Part of the Team?
We know that the people you love play a strong role in your health and wellness. Family and friends are welcome at many of our support groups and programs, and we are always willing to talk to your loved ones about the best ways to help you live with and manage your diabetes. Our social workers are also on hand to help you decide how to talk to your loved ones about your condition.